Illegal Water

New York bans large soft-drinks, but Concord knows where the true evil hides...

In a new step toward understanding water , its availability, and its overall commoditization the town of Concord, Massachusetts made a legal move banning water...in the bottle.

The precedent setting case came after a three-year campaign, called Ban the Bottle, comprising of local activists wanting to reduce fossil fuel use and waste.  One activist, Jean Hill told the New York times in a 2010 interview, "The bottled water companies are draining our aquifers and selling it back to us." She declared, “I’m going to work until I drop on this."

She sounds like the kind of activist that gets things done.

Ban the Bottles website list facts making citizens aware of the magnitude of waste and fossil fuel needed to make plastic bottles. Their site states "It takes 17 million barrels of oil per year to make all the plastic water bottles used in the U.S. alone. That's enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year." Their website also states: "In 2007, Americans consumed over 50 billion single serve bottles of water. With a recycling rate of only 23%, over 38 billion bottles end up in landfills."

The law is very specific in its target.  the bylaw states,"It shall be unlawful to sell non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water in single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter (34 ounces) or less in the Town of Concord on or after January 1, 2013." There is an exemption for an "emergency adversely affecting the availability and/or quality of drinking water to Concord residents."

So if the public water supply dries up in the event of a natural disaster then bottled water comes to the rescue.

The town itself is not unified in this decision.  The campaigning voice of a select group has caused a blanket effect over the entire populace.  Sadly, despite the great waste, the single-serving bottles of water accounted for a great amount of revenue among the local convenience stores and vending machines. Other issues brought up by those unhappy with the law emphasis that towns are near enough together that anyone can go to a neighboring town and purchase what they want.  As well stores are still able to offer large plastic bottles of water.

In all of the three year campaigning, legislative time spent on drafting a law, and further time spent checking and enforcing the laws (first offense is a warning, second offense is a $25 fine, any further offenses), no one in Concord appears to have thought of the next step.

The law itself focuses on a problem.  In this regard it is easy to attack an evil. Why has no one considered the reason behind the flagrant rise in plastic bottles?  Where is the alternative solution?

The city of Concord should consider the cultural shift that has taken place over the last 20 years.  What at one time was a voiced disclaimer of "who would ever pay for water in a bottle?", has grown to a community unwilling to trust tap water and further unable to gain access to public water due to the disappearance of water fountains.  The main reason bottled water increased in popularity.  Many times I have been to a city park where the water fountains sat broken and a hot dog vendor sold bottles of water.  You can not take away what appears to be a need without offering a solution.

I guess it really is easier to destroy than it is to create.

Website for : Ban the Bottle


Clean Water a Universal Reality

The idea of access to clean water is a shaping element for many societies. Throughout time humans have continually built their lives around freshwater sources. When the water runs out they must inevitably move. Engineer Michal Pritchard has decided to rethink the concept of fresh water access. Through his invention he has made filthy water drinkable. This allows for humans to drink clean water wherever water is present and the technology could potentially reshape the urban planning of tomorrow.

Here is a link to his demonstration he gave about his device the Lifesaver filter.

The Lifefilter Home Page.


Anthropology's Role with Water's Identity

The notion of using the views of anthropologist along with environmentalist to discuss water is a relatively recent concept. In 2004 Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Western Australia, Dr Sandy Toussaint talked about the relationships people have to a range of water sources. Below is a selection of the transcript from this talk.

Sandy Toussaint: A small child jumps excitedly from the side of a chlorinated pool into her mother’s arms. An elderly man is gently lowered into mineral springs that ease his arthritis. A teenage boy is struck by the pungency of salt as he fishes from the sea standing on rocks embedded with shells. A priest sprinkles holy water on an infant’s head, chanting as he does so. A dolphin swims, a woman drowns. A cyclist swigs water from a hand-held bottle, ducking sprinklers that sustain roadside plants. A river groans under the weight of water made brown by pollution, awaiting the wild torrents of the wet season to renew its life-sustaining potential. A group of men and women perform rituals to encourage rain; others symbolically wash their hands celebrating Passover. A clock marks the end of water restrictions. An artist captures the beauty of vibrant pools that succour a rich variety of birds and insects; a writer evokes the fluidity and sexuality of water; a river encircles the ashes of loved ones; and singers lament their saltwater home.

As these images indicate, water retains universal characteristics, but human interactions with water are context dependent. The uses, sounds, visions, colours and smells of water differ from time to time, place to place, religion to religion, culture to culture and person to person. Water has also informed the historical and current day use of certain words in communications. In the English language, for instance, water has inspired expressions such as ‘a sea of hands’, ‘drowning in paperwork’, ‘nautical miles’, ‘jury pools’, and ‘cold as ice’, each of which reveal metaphorical, symbolic and quantitative meanings directly attributable to salt and freshwater sources.

Of interest to anthropologists are questions related to expressions of difference and the relationships women, men and children have to a range of water sources. Water damaged by salinity or an absence of water presents slightly different, yet equally important representations, such as their direct and indirect consequence on humans, livestock, health, food production and trade, as well as the landscape itself.

What is significant is that the use of water and the meanings people attribute to the presence of water (or its opposite) cannot be assumed or taken for granted.

An anthropological focus which gives primacy to water takes into account the significance of social and cultural constructions through both specific and comparative approaches.
These aim to contextualise meanings attributed to water, including meanings informed by political and economic agendas, such as the cost of water or the construction of irrigation. In this way, water, whether it flows from a tap, surges in the ocean, nurtures suburban gardens, is central to the performance of rituals, facilitates mining or is notable by its unavailability, can be analysed not in isolation, but as a crucial part of interpreting broader aspects of contemporary life.

Put slightly differently, raising critical questions about concepts of water and its usage have the potential to enhance understandings about complex human/environmental relations.

Some examples from anthropology may help to illustrate my meaning here.

At a 2003 international, cross-disciplinary Water Symposium at the University of Western Australia, Brazilian anthropologist, Paul Little, outlined how despite the abundance of the Amazon River, one of the world’s largest freshwater sources, territorial rights and urban expansion have resulted in continual water-related conflict. The importance of the health, sustainability and abundance of the Amazon River are not disputed, but the contested meanings and expressions of power that tribal, conservation and development groups take to the management of the river, are.

What might this account convey about human values and power relations when competition for resources is not based on a limited resource?

At the same Symposium, Veronica Strang described the similar sensory experiences indigenous families in Australia and English families in the United Kingdom, described in response to a river’s flow. She also explained that the two groups constructed quite different spiritual meanings about the origin of water and therefore had divergent perspectives on water usage and control.

With similar responses to the fluidity, smells and sounds of a river, what might this comparison disclose about how two groups both converge and differ in relation to the emergence of, and practices associated with, water?

In another example, Philip Taylor’s work in Vietnam showed how vast networks of natural and artificially created waterways in the Mekong Delta are increasingly being replaced by the building of roads and bridges. Turning rivers into roads has resulted in the imposition of land-based markets and cramped urban settlements that threaten to enhance economic inequalities and diminish the vitality of social relations.

Questions arising from this example include those that ask Why is it the historical and cultural case that waterways, rather than roadways, have enabled more vibrant and congenial social circumstances in this part of Vietnam?

Drawing from some of my own collaborative work among indigenous groups in the Kimberley region of northern Australia, it is clear that lands, waters and human activity are totally inter-dependent.

The creation, reproduction, and conservation of water resources, are maintained through a range of practices, including an increasingly, via representations, given meaning in paintings, art exhibitions, ethnographic and documentary film, language texts and cultural mapping.

The primacy of water has also been heightened publicly through the process of Native Title claims, where water-based evidence in relation to desert, urban, inland and coastal locations has often been just as crucial as evidence inspired by the land.

In this situation and a number of others, it is plain that the culture of water sources, land formations and human activity regularly interact in ways not always understood by outsiders. These insights are among many which convey something about water in its own right as well as something about varied responses to changing water sources. Each situation also emphasises the primacy of past, present and continuing human and environmental relationships.

Given water’s obvious universality and necessity for the survival of humans and other species, a number of questions arise that are in need of investigation. For instance (and based on the images presented here although clearly there are many others);

What drives some groups more than others to share water as a resource?

What does competition over water reveal about broader aspects of social and economic inequality?

What part do culture, history and religion play in how water is managed, reproduced and controlled?

Why is it so that some human cultures distinguish water into a category of its own, whereas others are reluctant to demarcate water from everyday and more profound beliefs and practices?

In what way, if any, do women and men differ in the meanings they attribute to water, and how these change over time?

How does salinity or drought affect one family’s decision to move and another family’s decision to stay?

Why does one person purchase and another person reject bottled water?

What might be understood as the reasons, rather than the assumptions, why some citizens comply with and others resist water restrictions?

How universal are sensory responses to the sounds, smells and colours of chlorinated, polluted, muddied, clear, salt and fresh water?

Complex lines of inquiry such as these, which question broad assumptions about how people interact with their cultural environments, are of increasing interest in the humanities and social sciences. At the same time, contributions from these fields are less well-known than research in the physical sciences, such as that conducted in engineering, nature resource management, and environmental science.

While research findings from the physical and natural sciences are crucial, especially in relation to current water crises, how people differentiated by gender, class, race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, language and religion relate to and use water, are equally crucial. If environmental sustainability is to be successful for future generations, knowledge sharing and a complement of research ideas and practices from the physical and social sciences, as well as the humanities, seems to provide the best of all integrated, disciplinary worlds. Read the Full Transcript Here...


Indian Women: No Toilets, No Marriage

Through the power of negotiation, women of India are changing the cultural landscape and making sure they get what they deserve, a throne to sit upon. Women of India are now beginning to abstain from marriage unless the potential suitor has indoor plumbing, but most importantly a toilet.

The "No toilet, No Bride" campaign began roughly two years ago, and since that time 1.4 million toilets have been built in rural areas, some wiht government funds.

With a move of such simple demands protected water sources in rural areas can remain just that. The ability for the rural population to control the spread of disease and contamination of drinking water allows for already established communities to look toward a future in their same homes. As well the traditional caste system of India is evolving with this move as certain women who are part of the "untouchables", the lowest class, often had to have the misfortune of cleaning up human waste by hand.

The appearance of water by way of the toilet is set to change the landscape for Indian women.


Protected by Water

The Uros are a pre-Incan people who live on Lake Titicaca Puno, Peru and Bolivia. The Uros use gathered bundles of reeds to construct floating islands on which they live.
Floating islands are natural occurring structures in water ways. They form when plant matter binds together along shore lines. Over time the mass of matted material breaks free from the shore due to currents and storms. The collection of plant life then becomes a naturally occurring floating island.
Using totora reeds which grow in the lake, the Uros use this same principle to construct the 42 large floating islands on which they live. Upon these islands, according to a 1997 census, 2000 Uros inhabit the islands. The Uro's entire lives are built around not just the islands they create but also the lake.The Uros believe they are the owners of the lake.
The island structures were originally created as a defense mechanism. The ability to be mobile meant they could move about to avoid danger as well as use the lake as a barrier. In a sense they were creating a "reverse" moat. Instead of creating the area for water to gather around a built structure, they went to where the water already is located.

Using a product of the lake, the totora reeds, the Uros begin creating a mat that eventually grows into an island. The islands, which are 1 to 2 meters thick, flex as they are walked upon, giving the sensation much like a water bed. The islands take much work to maintain as they are constantly in a state of deterioration and decay. New reeds are added about every three months. The entirety of the island can last up to thirty years
As of the present day tourist from around the world are flocking to see this unique way of life. What once was a source of defense has become a means of economic subsistence. Sadly the more tourists who visit, the greater the impact is on the islands themselves, causing a much faster deterioration and breaking of the supporting reeds.


At Any Cost - Fracking and Water

The pursuit of more cost-efficient energy sources can destroy much along the way. In recent years a controversial means of gathering natural gas has come under new investigation. Hydraulic Fracturing, otherwise known as Fracing or Fracking, uses the high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water, sand and a variety of chemicals to crack and prop open shale seams and more economically release gas deposits. It is debated whether the process is a blessing for energy producers and consumers, or a vicious plague appearing in various communities.

Tom Zeller Jr. of the New York Times wrote how "industry groups have argued that the process is safe, but opponents fear that those chemicals, or displaced natural gas, could be leading to the contamination of drinking water in places where fracking is already well under way, including large portions of Pennsylvania."

Often times the process takes place along marsh areas near other water sources such as the Delaware River. It is reported that an estimated more than 15 million people get their drinking water from its watershed. These are individuals living in New York City and Philadelphia. The Delaware is considered one of the cleanest free-flowing rivers in the United States. Due to recent developments it is considered one of the most endangered rivers in the country according to the conservation group American Rivers.

In the midst of political and economic battles large areas of land—private and public—in the watershed have been leased to energy companies eager to drill for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing as its method.

The dangers of this drilling method are three fold. The first is the inherent means of the method which allows for uncontrolled natural gas to be released into underground water tables. The result is an absolute contamination of the water causing foul odors, toxic levels of gas,and even causing the liquid to become flammable.
The second is the waste of millions of gallons of water which after being mixed with chemicals becomes hazardous. The run-off then becomes a toxic sludge hauled away to contaminate other locals.
Finally the social, political and economical impact are intrinsically connected. Politically rights are given to energy companies based on economic figures. While in written form the potential may seem optimal, the result neglects to encompass the entire effected area. When one company is given rights to drill for gas near public water sources they should have a responsibility to maintain the healthy access to these water sources.

The recent change in U.N. policy regarding access to clean water as a human right should be considered. Already grass root protests have gathered opposing the fracking practice as well as companies which heavily engage in the act such as Halliburton.
In a move that might set a precedent for future action, Gov. David A. Paterson of New York has vetoed legislation which would have blocked new permits for drilling that uses fracking until May 15, 2011. The order restricts permits on horizontal wells. The initial bill would have called for more review as to the effects of the over all process.
The governor's legislative move is one grounded in economy and politics more than social equilibrium. He states: “This legislation, which was well intentioned, would have a serious impact on our state if signed into law,” Mr. Paterson said in a prepared statement. “Enacting this legislation would put people out of work – work that is permitted by the Department of Environmental Conservation and causes no demonstrated environmental harm, in order to effectuate a moratorium that is principally symbolic.”

At the moment the EPA is conducting a 2 year study on the effects of hydraulic drilling. The effects of fracking exist in economy, politics, and social balances. Water is used as a tool, an invader, pollution facilitator, and molested commodity.

The important questions that will come from these political debates are the determining of the rights of individuals to public water sources as opposed to the rights of independent companies and their individual profits.

"Gasland" - a documentary by Josh Fox details the issue of fracking.

Images from "Gasland"